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What is a Tallit?



A Tallit is a Jewish prayer shawl, worn over the garments. It is made of wool or linen, in a rectangular shape, with ‘Tzitzit’ (fringes) tied on each of the four corners. The Tallit is worn by men during prayer services in the Synagogue, primarily during the morning Prayer Service, so as to fulfil the commandment of wearing Tzitzit.

The Tallit should be made of either wool or linen. This is because only garments made of these materials have the Torah obligation of Tzitzit. Nowadays it is accepted to make Tallitot mainly out of wool; some are made from silk or other materials.



What is the origin for this commandment?



The source of this law is in the Torah portion Shelach -Lecha (Numbers 15:38-41) –“They shall make for themselves ‘Tzitzit’ (fringes) on the corners of their garments, for generations. And put on the fringes a sky-blue thread and it should constitute for you as Tzitzit…”

From here is derived the commandment to attach strings onto the garments which have four square corners.

What is the importance of this Commandment?

The above-mentioned verse ends with the words: “…and you will see it and remember all the laws of G-d and perform them.” Clearly, the primary attribute of this commandment is that it reminds a person of G-d’s laws and brings him to fulfil them.

Indeed, within the number of required strings and knots lies a hint to the 613 commandments of the Torah:

The letters of the word ציצית – Tzitzit, in Hebrew, have the numerical value of 600. Add to that the 8 strings, and the 5 knots - the total is 613, the exact amount of laws in the Torah.



Who is obligated in this Commandment?


The law falls on men exclusively. Ashkenazic Jews (Jews of European descent) have the custom to don a Tallit only after marriage. According to this custom, unmarried men wear a Tallit only on specific occasions, such as leading the congregation in prayer, when being called up to the Reading of the Torah, or whilst reciting the Priestly Blessing.

The Sephardic Custom is to don a Tallit by the age of Bar Mitzvah (13 years) or even earlier. Amongst Jews of Yemenite descent, children wear a Tallit from about the age of five - the halachic ‘age of education’.

During a circumcision ceremony the father wears a Tallit; as does a Sephardic groom on his wedding day. It is the custom to be buried in a Tallit without its fringes.


Tallit Katan.


A Tallit Katan is a small Tallit with fringes attached to each of its four corners. It is generally worn under the clothes, so that the commandment of Tzitzit can be fulfilled the entire day. Some have the custom to don it immediately after washing the hands in the morning.